The State of the States Medical Cannabis Regulations By Mark Sailors

Posted: April 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

Since the passage of Proposition 215 almost 14 years ago in 1996, there has been confusion regarding how to implement the law passed by the voters of California. During that time, the medical cannabis business has boomed in California, with an estimated $1.3 Billion in sales. All the while paying millions of dollars in rent, taxes, salaries and other associated costs of doing business, and staying within the established guidelines so as to maintain their status as not for profits.

Advocates from around the state and legislators, worried about a police backlash against medical Cannabis dispensaries, are pushing for statewide regulation that would not be in violation of the original Proposition 215. Further some advocates are calling on California to adopt a model that more closely resembles the regulations in place in Colorado, namely for-profit sales.

Today there are two models for dispensaries that were described as legal by the California Attorney Generals GUIDELINES FOR THE SECURITY AND NON-DIVERSION OF MARIJUANA GROWN FOR MEDICAL USE August 2008 , Statutory Cooperatives or Collectives. Both must be a not for profit business, however they operate in different ways legally. Owners of “dispensaries” often don’t understand the legal difference between a Collective and a Cooperative. A collective may grow cannabis distribute it and allocate the costs among its members where as a Coop has a strict statutory and regulatory frame work, but may legally buy and sell cannabis for the benefit of its membership, but not for a profit for the business as such. One huge problem statewide according to Allison Margolin, a prominent Attorney specializing in cannabis related cases, is “Unfortunately ‘profit’ isn’t defined, and there is no definition of nonprofit.” A perfect example of this lack of direction and definition happened recently in San Jose, where multiple locations operating medical cannabis “dispensaries” were raided by Santa Clara County Deputies who arrested dozens of operators seeking evidence of “illegal profiteering”. So far only one person has been charged, he was charged with felony money laundering and possession of marijuana for sale.

The raid stirred up a hornets nest of protest among medical cannabis patients and advocates, and then suddenly there was an election and a new District Attorney was elected in Santa Clara County. DA Jeffery Rosen has stopped the raids, saying he is waiting on updated guidelines from the new Attorney General, Kamala Harris on how state law governs medical cannabis “dispensaries.” Former attorney General candidate Steve Cooley called sales from medical cannabis dispensaries “storefronts illegally pushing pot”, as dozens of storefronts in L.A. have been raided under the guise of “illegal profiteering.”

At the same time legitimate patients can still be fired for off the job medical use. State Senator Mark Leno D-SF is reintroducing a bill to protect a patients right to employment. “A medical cannabis patient has the right to employment in California,” Leno said. “Voters did not intend the medical marijuana law to benefit only unemployed people. We want people employed.” This bill is Senate Bill 129, which would not change the law regarding usage during work hours or at the work place, but would overturn a Supreme Court ruling that said Proposition 215 did not grant the right to work, just the right to be free from prosecution.

Meanwhile assembly person Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is aiming to inject some reason and some sort of even playing field for the entire state. He is scheduled to begin work on an “omnibus cannabis bill” to create statewide oversight that will “effectively regulate medical cannabis dispensaries and all other aspects of delivering medical cannabis to legal medicinal users.” Rumor had it that this bill was already penned and waiting introduction to the legislature. The work on this bill, unfortunately has yet to begin. Once completed this bill would have the effect of bringing one unified set of rules to an industry that can have wildly divergent rules from city to city and county to county.

Sacramento attorney George Mull is lobbying the legislature for even more drastic reforms, he wants for profit sales. His argument is that a for profit model would end the confusion that causes many police raids, that it would drive down prices for patients, and that in Colorado for profit “dispensaries” pay licensing fees and are strictly regulated by the state when it comes to cultivation and security. Chief deputy DA in Sacramento County, Cindy Besemer said she thinks it is highly unlikely that Law enforcement would support a for profit distribution model. “I certainly would say we don’t believe in retail sales,” she said.”That’s drug dealing. I don’t care how it comes down to it. That’s what it is.” I wonder if she feels the same way when she walks into her pharmacy to pick up her prescription medications?

As we see, people have divergent opinions on this issue, so divergent it is hard to imagine that they are reading the same law. Law enforcement sees it one way, patients see it another way, dispensary owners see it yet another way and in the end the courts tell us what is legal and what is not, what is constitutional and what isn’t. In my opinion we as a town ,and county need to slow down on city and county regulation and get behind the effort to have a centralized state wide law that could help us as a region capitalize on our reputation as a producer of high quality medical marijuana, and legitimize a large part of of local economy.

Contact your State Senator Noreen Evans to voice your support for SB129. Her contact information is, Eureka Office: 710 E Street #150, Eureka, CA 95501 Phone: (707)-445-6508 Fax: (707)-445-6511 or you can e-mail her by filling out this web form from her website Contact Noreen Evans .

  1. Mark Sailors, who ran for “Pot City U.S.A.’s” City Council Race in 2010, has just entered the 2012 political arena. He’s opinionated, right most of the time, and will be a key player in the effort to shake up Arcata’s City Council somnolence and elitist culture. Tune into Mark Sailors new blog frequently. For any local politician, I’d suggest “Friending” him or you might find yourself on his “Unlike” list. And you won’t want to be “Unliked” by this tenacious, smart and snarky local whirlwind. Vote for Mark Sailors in 2012. “He’ll deliver the promise of of Arcata, not the hope.” @JackieWellbaum

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